Newmarket, Ontario’s Tokyo Police Club released their debut EP A Lesson In Crime in 2006. For a band who made their name through minute-and-a-half songs and music blog buzz, that’s an awfully long time ago.
It is a credit to the band then that they are releasing a second LP to a fair degree of indie anticipation: 2008’s Elephant Shell grafted the quick fixing, instantly gratifying qualities of their earliest efforts to an altogether more gradually satisfying formula, revealing further strings to the Tokyo Police Club bow.
Champ, thankfully, resists the unspoken invite to dissolve into soft-prog. It is, instead, Elephant Shell’s older sibling rather than its successor, musically, thematically and stylistically. Champ is the fine line between maturing and reminiscing, and Dave Monks and co skip the opposing sides adroitly.
Opening gambit Favourite Food, for instance, mirrors the previous album’s Listen To the Math, its inauspicious opening themed around a hospital visit at the opposite end of the human experience (“With a heart attack on your plate / You were looking back on yours days”) before crashing into a dynamic, headlong dive down memory lane.
Favourite Colour, similarly, portrays twenty-something nostalgia with sufficient light heartedness to imbue a curious sense of gravitas; the shout-along chorus insightful or disposable depending on the listening experience sought.
It is with first single release Breakneck Speed, however, that Champ reveals Tokyo Police Club’s direction: while the lyrical theme is as smartly astute as we’ve come to expect, the track is altogether less frantic, featuring as it does a indolent siren-like lick and a Fever To Tell-era Yeah Yeah Yeahs-style falsetto guitar harmonics. New territory deftly explored.
The album’s second single release Wait Up (Boots Of Danger), meanwhile, exhibits the classic, distinctive Tokyo Police Club sound: crunching-yet-measured riffs, an infectious overarching melody, prolix lyricism and a liberal smattering of oohs.
And while there is a slight and brief concern that Champ may have peaked too soon with such an effort, the album retains gems to present. Take Bambi for starters: a synth-stabbing, subtly-reverberating number that channels an electro Stills when they were still paranoid and unmissable.
And merits continue: End Of A Spark sails close to anthemic winds, sounding not too unlike a more recent Max�mo Park number; Hands Reversed provides the obligatory slow burner without an ounce of reluctance; Gone tells us Tokyo Police Club could have conquered ska should they have so wished.
Not that Champ is perfect, of course: Big Difference sounds like a cutting room floor fugitive from the Elephant Shell sessions, Not Sick exudes the more cynical aspects of their quick-fixing early efforts, and Frankenstein, while closing the album with appropriate bombast, is a bit directionless by the band’s dynamic standards.
Does this sophomore effort, then, live up to the expectations created by its predecessor? In most ways, yes. In others, perhaps not. What Champ does represent, though, is a careful marriage of new ideas ventured and old ideas revised, and, as such – despite perhaps running out of steam towards the end – it is an album more than worthy of the attention it will attract.